by Rob Green
I believe your marriage can be full of blessing. God created marriage, and He called it “very good.” He established order in marriage and explains in His Word how it is to function. When a marriage functions according to God’s design, both of you will enjoy those blessings.
However, as we all know, not every marriage functions as God intended, and not every marriage enjoys His blessings. Some people might even confess that their marriage is nothing like what they expected—it is much harder than they thought.
While there may be many reasons why the marriage is missing God’s blessings, let’s focus on one of the most common: a misunderstanding of the responsibilities God requires from you and of the expectations you might have that go beyond what the Bible says.
Imagine with me how challenging life would be if the husband expected his marriage to be sexual utopia. What if he believed his wife would always agree with the decisions he wanted to make? Or how do you think a marriage would work if the wife believed her husband would treat her like a fairy tale princess? You know that marriage is full of blessing, but that blessing involves both work and self-sacrifice. When you set out expectations of all you will receive, then disappointment is surely to follow. God designed marriage, in part, to help us learn to give. This requires a reorientation of our thoughts and expectations.
So how should you rethink your marriage expectations to enjoy God’s blessings?
Let me speak to the husbands first.
Men, God designed the husband to fulfill certain duties—duties that can be described in Scripture using three words: lover, learner, and leader.
Lover: God commands you to love your wife like Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25f). This is an amazing statement especially when you realize the very next line explains that Christ loved by giving. You, as a husband, are to give of yourself for the benefit of your wife. This radically changes the way you spend your time driving home from work. Instead of thinking about all the things your wife is going to do to bless you, you are thinking about the ways to bless your wife. Instead of being angry at her for not doing something you wanted, you will consider her situation and find ways to serve her. This is not how we always think, is it?
Not every marriage functions as God intended, and not every marriage enjoys His blessings.
Learner: God also commands you to learn your wife. First Peter 3:7 tells us to live with our wives in an understanding way. Imagine if you learned your wife’s gifts, strengths, and abilities and then supported her in each one of them. For example, my wife is handier than I am. I change a light bulb, and she remodels the kitchen! It bothered me at first. Yet at some point I had to come to the realization that God had gifted her in a way he did not gift me. Rather than fight against God’s design, I started to celebrate it. The more I celebrated her gifts, the freer she felt to use her skills. She blessed our home as a result. At the same time, it is important to know your wife’s weaknesses, fears, and concerns. This allows you to provide encouragement, protection, and spiritual truth.
Leader: Leadership is hard. Sometimes as men we fail in leadership because we try to be dictators who build little kingdoms in our homes. Sometimes we fail in leadership because we are too soft and give up the first time something goes wrong. Godly leaders avoid both ditches by seeking to lead their entire families to the joy found in Christ. Leadership may mean the husband has to make a tough decision, but his decision should result in the spiritual health of every member of the family. Jesus described leadership in Matthew 20:20-26 as follows: The leader is the servant of all.
Guys, this is a big job. We have to admit we tend to focus on ourselves and what we want. Please ask the Lord to help you think about and do your responsibility.
Ladies, the Lord also helps you. Again there are three words that provide a helpful summary of your responsibility: follower, finisher, and fan.
Follower: If your husband is supposed to lead, then it makes sense the wife is to follow. I realize this makes some women very uneasy, especially if you have seen or experienced godless leadership. To be clear, following has never meant you are unimportant, insignificant, or unable to voice your opinions. It simply means you are placing yourself under his leadership (1 Peter 3:1-6, Ephesians 5:22). I want to encourage you younger ladies especially. The type of leadership described in the Bible is not easy to do and often involves making mistakes. As young men are cutting their leadership teeth, it is wise to support them while still offering encouragement on ways it could be improved.
Finisher: In Genesis 2:18-24 we are reminded it was not good to be alone. While God gives special grace to those he has called to be single, the normal course of action is to be with someone. You bring to the marriage many gifts, skills, and abilities. You should use them to honor Christ and encourage your husband. He needs you more than he is often willing to admit.
Fan: Ephesians 5:33 commands you to respect your husband. Husbands do many things for their wives (just as wives do many things for their husbands), and the more you show appreciation and value for your husband and demonstrate he has been good to you, the more you honor Christ and encourage blessing in your marriage.
If you and your spouse seek, by God’s grace, to live out these roles, then your marriage is going to be filled with love and encouragement, working together no matter what pressures you face on the outside. Both of you will find your joy in Christ and not demand joy from the other. In short, your marriage will proclaim the gospel, and that is experiencing all the blessings God designed.
Whether you are just starting out or you have been married for many years, it is never too late to learn and change. Our God is a gracious and compassionate God (Exodus 34:6). He can help anyone change, and he can help them change today.
I encourage you to think about your God-given roles. I encourage you to remember that joy and satisfaction is ultimately found in the Lord. The Lord can help you fulfill each command in his Word.
So what do you with all the expectations about making life work?
My advice is enjoy the journey. The Lord may allow countless blessings and challenges in life. How you make life work in one stage of life may not work equally well in another stage of life. Yet married couples who have Christ at the center of their lives are free to love, to give, to serve each other, and to adjust to whatever the Lord allows in their lives. It is incredibly freeing and incredibly wonderful to realize that Christ has given us all we need, and that allows us to change our expectations and focus on our roles.
The more we focus on our roles, the more we will see our expectations shifting from “What can you do for me?” to “How can I serve you?”
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Rob Green is the author of Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong and Lasting Marriage (New Growth Press). He is the pastor of counseling and seminary ministries at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN. Green also serves on the council board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He and his wife Stephanie have three children.